Friday, 22 October 2010

More than an olive branch

Though the detail is unclear, the PLO leadership is airing the notion of offering "historic" concessions to Israel to bring it along the path of peace, writes Khaled Amayreh in Ramallah

The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) has expressed willingness to offer Israel far-reaching concessions in return for the establishment of a viable Palestinian state in all or most of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Some the offered concessions constitute clear abandonment of Palestinian national constants and other long-standing Palestinian positions.

Earlier this week, PLO Secretary Yasser Abed Rabbo said in an interview that his organisation would be willing to recognise Israel as a Jewish state if Israel agreed to give the Palestinians a state based on 1967 borders. "We would be willing to recognise Israel as whatever the Israelis want, even as a Chinese state," said Abed Rabbo.

The remarks infuriated most Palestinians, including many Fatah leaders, who urged PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to fire Abed Rabbo. The leaders of the Arab community in Israel were especially upset by Abed Rabbo's statements, with one of them -- Mohamed Barakeh -- also urging Abbas to dismiss Abed Rabbo. "He has no right to interfere with the fate of Arab citizens of Israel. He doesn't represent them; this is none of his business."

Israel hasn't spelled out explicitly what it means by "recognising Israel state as a Jewish state". However, it is widely believed that Israel is harbouring ill designs against its large Palestinian minority, which constitutes nearly one fourth of Israel's overall population, such as deporting most or all of them to a prospective deformed Palestinian state on parts of the West Bank.

This is the worst possible scenario for the nearly two million Palestinians still living in their ancestral homeland and who, more than anyone else, understand the implications of the "Jewishness of Israel". Obviously angered by Abed Rabbo's remarks, several leaders and Knesset members representing the Arab community in Israel raced to Ramallah to meet with Abbas and communicate to him the indignation of their community.

One of the leaders addressed Abbas, telling him: "Mr President, does Mr Abed Rabbo realise that most Israelis understand that his remarks constitute Palestinian consent to the deportation of our people from their homeland at some point in the future? If he does, it is a calamity; if he doesn't, it is a greater calamity."

Following the meeting, Abbas told reporters that he would never recognise Israel as a Jewish state, "because this is none of our business". "Besides, why didn't Israel ask Egypt and Jordan to recognise it as a Jewish state?"

It is not clear if Abed Rabbo's remarks were a slip of the tongue or had been coordinated with Abbas beforehand, as many Palestinians suspect.

Meanwhile, another political bombshell went off Monday evening, 18 October, when Abbas said during an interview with Israeli television that the PLO would be willing to give up all "historical rights" in return for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the territories occupied in 1967.
Abbas didn't clarify what he meant by "historical rights", but many -- probably most --Palestinians thought he was alluding to the right of return for Palestinian refugees uprooted from their homes when Israel was created in 1948.

Ghassan Al-Khatib, head of the Palestinian Authority (PA) Information Office, denied that Abbas was voicing willingness to give up the right of return. "The right of return is one of the elements upon which the entire peace process is based. In my opinion, Abbas was alluding to other historical rights, such as Palestinian ownership of land in what is now Israel."

However, this and similar explanations are not accepted by Hamas which has accused the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah of "giving free concessions to Israel and receiving nothing in return."

"I am no longer surprised by anything done or said by this entity called the Palestinian Authority. They are giving up our rights in return for more and more illusions. Today they are giving up the right of return, and tomorrow they will give up Jerusalem and God knows when this wheel of concessions will stop," said Nayef Rajoub, one of the most popular Islamist leaders in the West Bank.

"I can tell you that the PA has already become an integral part of the Israeli security system," he added. Rajoub, who won the largest number of votes in the 2006 elections, was only recently released from Israeli custody, having spent more than four years as a political captive for his affiliation with the political wing of Hamas.

Meanwhile, the PA, which seems unable to get its act together, is planning to ask the UN General Assembly to declare Israeli colonies in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, illegal and in violation of international law.

The initiative, which comes in coordination with Arab states, would replace an earlier idea of seeking Security Council recognition of a Palestinian state in the territories occupied in 1967. It is widely believed that the Arab group at the UN decided to abandon the idea after the US made it clear that it would veto any resolution to that effect at the UN Security Council.

However, a UN resolution against settlements wouldn't be strong enough to push Israel to reverse its present policy, especially given unrestricted US backing. Moreover, any new resolution against Israeli settlements in the occupied territories would only be an addition to a long list of prior resolutions that both Israel and the US have ignored, riding roughshod over them and international law.

Trying to thwart PA efforts at the UN, Israel has given certain indications that it might agree to a partial and brief settlement freeze to "give peace a chance". The Israeli media quoted Israel's new ambassador to the UN, Meron Reuven, as saying that "the [Israeli] government is looking into possibilities and different ways of seeing where to take the peace process and how to take it from here."

Reuven declined to say when or under what circumstances Israel might continue to the settlement freeze, saying the decision would have to be taken by the Israeli government.

Fatah official Ahmed Qurei dismissed "all these efforts and negotiations" as "a reproduction of the same illusions, tricks, deception manoeuvres and failure that we have become quite accustomed to seeing." Speaking in Cairo earlier this week, Qurei said an alternative to futile talks was to unilaterally declare statehood and then request that the state be put under international protection.

Qurei noted, however, that the intra- Palestinian rift would have to be bridged, and despite "counter efforts" from certain regional parties, before any such move would be possible. "This is the gravest juncture in the history of the Palestinian issue, and if we don't get our act together as Arabs and Palestinians, there will be a disaster whose ramifications would affect the entire region."

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian

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